Don’t sell yourself short

When it comes to marketing themselves to clients or the wider world, agencies are not as good at selling themselves as they are at producing the work for their clients.

But they can be. By seeing their creative output as the surface and spending more time on what’s beneath, agencies can become as good at selling as they are at doing the work.

Here are some of the things agencies do that keep them on the surface and suggestions for how to dig deeper.


Treating the process of ‘selling themselves’ as synonymous with ‘producing work for their clients.’ This can be seen in the degree to which they commit their expertise, in the pitch process (sometimes to the point of doing the work), in order to be in the running to win the work. Treat these as two separate things; ‘selling’, as something that takes place before they’ve been appointed and ‘producing’ as something that takes place afterwards. This creates the time and space to focus on what really matters when it comes to selling.

Over focusing on their end product creative work or the process that got to it. An agency will talk about the aspects of the work and of their method that they are interested in. This can become overly focused on the creative solution or their process for getting there. Instead ask “What is important to the client? And how best to help them get to their answer?” Clients see most agencies as equally capable creatively. What they are interested in is the agency’s point of view, their capability through examples of how they’ve solved similar business problems with their expertise and their ability to explain clearly without jargon how they would work with them. And to do this through the people that delivered the work being cited and who would be the ones to deliver it for the client in question.

Not pausing to ask, “What do we think?” A client will want to know what an agencies point of view is on their industry, their business issue or something else. The risk for an agency is that they spend all their time preparing creative routes for a competition to win the right to be the agency to be paid to produce the creative, that they simply don’t have time to curate their thinking. By pausing to think, an agency prepares themselves for a conversation, a two-way dialogue. This is what happens at the first meeting. If you’re not clear on what you think, then you can’t ask questions or listen well.

Not discussing with the client how the agency’s expertise will be evaluated and bought or sold. This may be because, by and large the businesses doing the buying are bigger than the agency doing the selling. They need to shrug off any inferiority complex. Decide to become experts about how best to buy design as well as how best to sell it. Learn to foster opinions about what works and what doesn’t and why. And then be able to articulate them.

Going it alone. Agencies often feel they should be the ones to figure out how to sell themselves. Perhaps because it’s what they do for their clients. But if this were true, why would their clients need them? It may be harder for an agency to escape their own gravity than other businesses because of the shadow their expertise casts. And the brave agencies recognise this and look for partnerships that can help them to develop a clearer understanding of the most effective approach for them. And that’s often where they get the best view of what’s beneath the surface.

What are you seeing? Is it surface? Or are you going deeper? As a coach I work with my clients to help them dig beneath the surface to get to the gold. If you’re ready to do this work, drop me a line. It would be great to hear from you.

This article first appeared in edited form on Mumbrella April 2018

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